Enduring Enigmas

These classic cases have stumped investigators for years—and perhaps always will

Oct 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

The 39-year-old aviator disappeared in the central Pacific on July 2, 1937, near the end of her 29,000-mile around-the-world flight. Neither her body nor her plane was ever found. Were Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, U.S. spies, and were they captured by the Japanese? Was Earhart the voice of WWII radio broadcaster Tokyo Rose? According to American explorer Dave Jourdan, who's planning a two-month 2004 expedition to search for the missing aircraft, the truth is much more mundane: Earhart likely ran out of gas and drowned when her plane crashed into the ocean.

Waterman proved his alpine skills with a five-month first ascent of Alaska's 14,573-foot Mount Hunter in 1978. But as Jonathan Waterman (no relation) reported in his 1994 book In the Shadow of Denali, Johnny's behavior became increasingly erratic after that climb. On April 1, 1981, 28-year-old Waterman attempted a solo first ascent of the east face of Alaska's 20,320-foot Mount McKinley. Witnesses say he carried very little food and gear when he started up McKinley. Did Waterman slip into a crevasse, or did he deliberately die on the mountain—as his father, Guy, would do 19 years later, freezing to death on New Hampshire's Mount Lafayette? GLEN AND BESSIE HYDE
The Idaho newlyweds were last seen walking down a Grand Canyon trail toward the Colorado River in November 1928. A month later, their wooden scow was found floating right side up at the western end of the Canyon, sans the Hydes. In 1971, a client on a Grand Canyon rafting trip claimed that she was Bessie Hyde, and that she had murdered her husband on the river years earlier. But Canyon locals long suspected that river guide Georgie White was the real Bessie; the Hydes' marriage certificate was said to be in her possession when she died in 1991.

McCandless headed into the Alaska wilderness in April 1992 to live off the land. Four months later, hunters found the 24-year-old dead outside of Denali National Park. As chronicled in Jon Krakauer's 1996 book Into the Wild, McCandless likely died of starvation. Journal entries indicate that he'd become too weak—possibly after eating poisonous seeds of the wild sweet pea—to continue foraging. But the question still remains: Was McCandless simply naive, or did he have a death wish? "If this adventure proves fatal and you don't ever hear from me again," he wrote to a friend before his trip, "I want you to know you're a great man. I now walk into the wild."

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